Ideas and International Political Change: Soviet/Russian Behavior and the End of the Cold War

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Ideas and International Political Change: Soviet/Russian Behavior and the End of the Cold War

By Jeffrey T. Checkel
Yale University Press, 1997
191 pp. $26.00
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In the mid-1980s Checkel was among the first to recognize the significance of Gorbachev's "new thinking" in foreign policy. Thus, not surprisingly, he assigns a leading role to ideas in his reconstruction of the end of the Cold War. Ideas do not work alone; the basic political setup has to favor their triumph; leaders who embrace them have to be able to impose them; and a country has to find itself in big enough trouble to want to impose them. Checkel explains how these elements came together in the Gorbachev era, producing great change, and, in contrast, the reasons they did not during the earlier Nixon-Brezhnev dÈtente. In a nutshell, although breakthrough thinking already existed in their day, Brezhnev and company hesitated to embrace it because the need for change eluded them. In the process, the author richly paints the conceptual revolution over which Gorbachev presided. However, when he tries to use the same framework to explain what has gone wrong in the years since, why ideas are no longer so powerful, coherent, or edifying in the Yeltsin period, he comes up short.